The ex-president spoke for an hour without mentioning Ron DeSantis
It’s official: Donald Trump is running for president of the United States in 2024. The former president made his announcement last night in an hour-long speech at his estate in Mar-a-Lago, kicking off what is bound to be a contentious campaign for the Republican nomination.
The speech was hardly riveting, and Trump spent most of the hour regurgitating themes he’s been pressing for the past six years. What may have felt shocking or subversive when he announced his 2016 campaign felt tired this time. Nevertheless, the kickoff does give us insight into what kind of campaign Trump is planning to run and, in particular, the three-part message he is banking on to take him back to the White House.
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The first part of this message is that Trump made America great during his presidency. Within the first five minutes of his speech, Trump bragged that “two years ago, when I left office, the United States stood ready for its golden age. Our nation was at the pinnacle of power, prosperity and prestige, towering above all rivals, vanquishing all enemies, and striding into the future confident and so strong.” Trump wasn’t shy about making it clear that this prosperity was all due to his leadership on every issue imaginable, including the economy, energy independence, the pandemic, competition with China, tax cuts, Islamic terrorism, and immigration.
The second part of Trump’s message is that Joe Biden and the radical Left have destroyed America. He painted a disturbing picture of America as a nation suffused with violence and privation, lamenting “the blood-soaked streets of our once great cities,” that “our country is being invaded” by illegal immigrants, and the fact that “under Biden and the radical Democrats, America has been mocked, derided, and brought to its knees.” In Trump’s telling, all of the country’s problems — from inflation, violent crime and illegal immigration to the Ukraine war, gas prices and America’s weakness on the international stage — can be laid at the feet of Biden and the Democratic Party.
The final piece of Trump’s message is that he is running for president to reverse the destruction that the Democrats have wrought and that he will Make America Great Again (again). While his agenda is relatively short on specifics, Trump struck the same nationalistic and isolationist tone he’s been hammering for years: he’s going to crack down on illegal immigration and crime, get tough on China, and bring back domestic manufacturing with tariffs. Other parts of his agenda are updated for the times, like his promises to reduce inflation, ensure the security of elections, and prevent transgender women from competing in women’s sports.
The speech, however, was just as notable for what Trump didn’t say. At no point did he mention that the 2020 election was stolen from him. Given his continuous focus on this exact issue for the past two years, its exclusion from the speech must have been a conscious choice.
Just as striking was that Trump didn’t mention any of his potential Republican challengers. Given the fury he has directed at his most viable competitor, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, in the past few days, leaving this out of the speech was also no accident. Trump most likely ditched talk of the “stolen election” because he realises it’s unpopular and divisive; he restrained himself from criticising his opponents because he wants to be seen as the frontrunner and presumed nominee, rather than just another candidate.
But, unfortunately for Trump, ignoring his competitors won’t make them disappear. A number of polls released earlier this week show DeSantis to be more popular of the two among G.O.P. voters. Trump’s purchase within the G.O.P. is at a nadir after the disastrous midterm elections in which a number of his endorsed candidates underperformed and cost Republicans control of the House and Senate. This time, Trump is not guaranteed the Republican nomination the way he was in 2020. In some ways, he’s looking like an underdog.
The former president’s announcement speech gives us important hints about the kind of campaign he is planning to run, but it doesn’t give us much insight into whether or not that campaign will be effective. Only time — and the conclusion of what’s bound to be an especially contentious campaign cycle — will tell us that.